Even If an Employee Is Volunteering, They Might Be Able to Still Make A Compensable Claim for Workers Compensation

Goulding v. NJ Friendship House

Docket No. A-48

Decided February 8, 2021

Submitted by New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.

In a recent decision, the New Jersey Supreme Court reviewed whether an injury occurring during a Family Fun Day in which an employee volunteered to work without pay is compensable for workers compensation purposes.

In Goulding, petitioner was an employee of North Jersey Friendship House, Inc. (Friendship House), a non-profit organization that assists individuals with developmental disabilities. She worked Monday through Friday as a chef/cook, and her responsibilities included cooking meals for, and teaching vocational classes to, Friendship House’s clients.

Friendship House hosted its first ever “Family Fun Day,” which it planned to hold as an annual event moving forward. The event was designed to provide a safe and fun environment with recreational activities for the clients of Friendship House and their families. Friendship House employees were asked to volunteer to work the event, but there were no consequences for those who did not. Goulding volunteered to work the event as a cook, her normal job at Friendship House.

On the day of the event, Goulding set up breakfast. While later preparing for lunch, she stepped in a pothole and fell down, injuring her ankle. The Workers’ Compensation Court denied her request for compensation determining that Family Fun Day was a social or recreational event and that the two-part test of N.J.S.A. 34:15-7 was not satisfied. The Appellate Division affirmed. The Supreme Court of New Jersey granted certification.

The Supreme Court determined whether an activity is social or recreational should turn on the employee’s role in the activity — whether she is participating as a guest or providing services for her employer at the event. If the employee is helping to facilitate the activity in the manner that occurred here, the event cannot be deemed a social or recreational activity as to that employee, and any injuries sustained by the employee while acting in that capacity should be compensated.

Also, her role at the event, which was planned to be held annually, was the same as her role as an employee; but for her employment at Friendship House, she would not have been asked to volunteer and would not have been injured. Viewed in that light, Goulding’s injury was “a regular incident of employment.” Additionally, Friendship House received a benefit from Family Fun Day beyond an improvement to employee health and morale. The event was not a closed, internal event for the Friendship House team. Rather, it was an outreach event designed to celebrate and benefit Friendship House’s clients, thereby creating goodwill for Friendship House in the community that could expand its fundraising opportunities in the future.

Social gatherings and other events involving your employer may be covered under workers’ compensation.  There are many questions that must be answered for that issue, and this case provides that even if an employee is volunteering, they might be able to still make a compensable claim for workers compensation.

If you or someone you know has been injured on the job, you need to make sure you contact a workers’ compensation attorney with experience today.  These attorneys can answer all of your questions regarding temporary benefits, medical bill payments, permanent injury, and the nuances of workers’ compensation law.  Do not hesitate to contact Hark & Hark today to discuss your personal injury.

For workers’ compensation and personal injury matters, you pay nothing upfront, and our fee is paid as a percentage of your recovery. At Hark & Hark, we represent clients for any case in any county in New Jersey including Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Essex, Gloucester, Mercer, Ocean, and Salem counties.

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Jeffrey Hark is a New Jersey Civil and Criminal Lawyer.

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